Dead End Brew Machine: Curtis The Destroyer (Scotland: Barley Wine: 9.6% ABV)

Visual: Clear bright cherry body, with a ruddier centre. Small browned head, some small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Booming glacier cherries. Caramel. Vanilla. Bourbon. Shortbread. Cake sponge. Brandy cream.

Body: Honey to mead. Cherries. Raisins and sultanas. Fruitcake. Toffee. Golden syrup cake. Apple touch. Oily thickness. Cake sponge.

Finish: Clear honey. Raisins to fruitcake. Brandy snaps. Golden syrup. Slight charred wood bitterness. Oily sheen with hop oil bitterness. Dry spice. Brown sugar

Conclusion: You know, for a while I was wondering of my memories of how good barley wines could be where just my youthful years’ memories lying to me and letting me down. I was finding barley wines that were ok, and barley wines that let me down, but none that even came close to how my memories told me they could be. There were none that revitalised that energy and brought back my love for the style.

This, therefore was welcome, as this is a blood good barley wine! Smooth, yet thick with a just slightly oily feel. That mouthfeel is great – slightly rough edged in way that says this is a strong beer without all of the prickles taken out, but 90% of the time it is smoothed down by its time in the oak . However for all it is smooth, it keeps enough fight to it, and keeps all the weight and mouthfeel of a good barley wine with it. That slight extra thickness, that not smoothed out edge, helps it stand out from the super smooth takes on the beer, and gives it a robustness so that the rougher notes don’t turn it into a boozy brutal thing. It nods to both the smoothness and the harshness, taking the best from each.

There are boozy and spirity elements, but it is no more alcohol touched than you would expect from a the fairly heavy barley wine style – Lots of vanilla and bourbon notes, heavier brandy cream sweetness and sherry spiciness – all elements that seem to come from the barrels and give complexity but not too much booze.

However, we are not here for the oak – that is an extra touch, a bit of spice, we are here for the barley wine it improves. From first pour onwards cherries just burst out from the beer, just oozing through in the aroma followed by a smattering of dark fruit. However as you move past that and into your first sip of the body you get a surprising level of clear honey to mead notes that makes this stand out as not your usual barley wine.

It is sweet and sticky but with darker, oily bitter notes, mixed with fruitcake and just a dash of Christmas style dry spice. It is so full on, yet so smooth and generally just so complicated.

So, does it have any downsides? Some – it gets a bit heavy and wearing near the end of the can. There is so much going on, and it sticks around so can get sickly with all the flavours, and because of that I can’t put it as one of the all time great beers.

So, in conclusion, an awesome beer with a few minor flaws, that come in late on, but is still pretty good at the end. Only just misses out on being a top favourite beer, but definitely still worth trying anyway.

Background: Ok, this is the second time I have drunk this – first time around I was just wanting something big to sip, and was shocked by how much I enjoyed it, so endeavoured to grab a second can to do proper notes on. This is a Jamaican rum barrel aged Barley wine, that is apparently made with a custom blend of London III and Burlington yeast. Don’t know enough on the yeast to get the specifics but I am intrigued by the effort that went into getting their yeast just right for this. Anyway another one grabbed from Independent Spirit. Went with the heavy duty and both socially and politically conscious metal of Svalbard while drinking – “It’s Hard To Have Hope” to be exact. Utterly awesome album, the best the band has done in my opinion.

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